Shooting sports are vulnerable to prejudice and ignorance, particularly when these are whipped up by an unscrupulous press. Add in populist politicians and you have a recipe for damaging shooting. The devolution of airguns to Scotland foreshadowed in the Queens Speech is a case in point.
Low-powered airgun shooting is the most popular form of our sport, the entry level to shooting and a way to learn safety and responsible use. But its also a discipline in its own right and an Olympic sport. Damage it and you damage the future of shooting.
Airgun shooting has been used as a political football in Scotland. The tabloid press has misrepresented the incidence of illegal use (which has fallen by 23 per cent over recent years). Nationalist politicians have used the fact that all firearms law is reserved to Westminster as a stick with which to beat the English. As popular concern has risen so all political parties have jumped on the bandwagon. This has led to the recommendation of the Calman Commission to devolve power over airguns to the Scottish parliament, based on the appetite to deal with air weapons differently in Scotland but gave no evidence to support their view. Indeed, the report convincingly argues the case for keeping firearms law unified throughout Great Britain.
Since 1920, firearms law has been bedevilled with piecemeal amendment, often illogical, seldom effective and always burdensome. Devolving power over one part of it will tend to increase the problem by delivering differing rules in different parts of the country. We dont know what a future Scottish government will do with airgun law, but it could be savage. Previous ministers have threatened a ban and spoken of licensing. It is conceivable that Scottish use could be limited to licensed pest controllers and gun club members, though ministers in Scotland now speak of pest control, target shooting and sporting shooting as legitimate reasons. Unless we are careful, plinking in the back garden and collecting historic airguns could be made illegal.
The calls for further devolution wont stop there. Calman considered demands for the devolution of all firearms law but stopped at airguns. If power over airgun law is devolved then the logic of reserving firearms legislation to Westminster disappears. It will be far more difficult for future governments to argue against demands to devolve powers over shotguns or rifles. There are those who claim its impossible to hold a sensible discussion about firearms legislation in Scotland after the atrocity at Dunblane.
BASC is determined to oppose the move. We will be seeking meetings with Home Office ministers and stressing that dealing with airgun misuse is not just a Scottish problem and that evidence shows that education and enforcement are the best ways of guaranteeing public safety. We will be pointing out that attacking safe and responsible recreational use could land the Government with a significant bill for compensation. Should powers be devolved to Holyrood we will be arguing for proportionate and sensible laws in Scotland.
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